LAKEVIEW — A city department dedicated to working with social service providers told neighbors that organizations like The Night Ministry and Broadway Youth Center do not attract crime to Lakeview.
John Pfeiffer, deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Family and Support Services, spoke to a Lakeview community crime meeting this week, saying "I don't accept the premise" that clients of social services add to crime rates.
Neighbors have complained for years about feeling unsafe near places that offer local youth services, including the Center on Halsted, the Broadway Youth Center, and The Crib, a Night Ministry homeless shelter.
But Pfeiffer said the services, which are largely publicly funded, work to engage vulnerable young people and keep them off the streets — and few of the youths have arrest warrants.
Lakeview is already "a magnet" for runaway LGBT youths because it is "an island of tolerance," he said. Services are a resource for them, he said.
"We see very little criminal activity in the programs that we fund," Pfeiffer said. "We want to be sure that they're doing right by the clients and doing right by the community."
Clients "may be barred" if they commit a crime, Pfeiffer said, but organizations distinguish between crimes of survival and violent crimes. A youth stealing a bag of chips from a 7-Eleven, for example, may still be allowed to use services, he said.
"It's an order of magnitude," Pfeiffer said. "If someone commits a survival crime, no, I don’t think they should bar them from shelter."
More than 50 residents attended the meeting in the Town Hall Police District community room Wednesday evening. Previous meetings about social services and crime have turned into shouting matches and accusatory tones, and by comparison, Wednesday's meeting was relatively calm.
Still, several residents said Pfeiffer's assurances did not soothe their frustrations. The neighborhood, they said, feels increasingly unsafe.
"I'm terrified to walk home," one woman said. "I don't want to live like that."
Pfeiffer said that he was sorry to hear about the frustration but that his department can't do anything about a resident feeling unsafe.
If somebody feels unsafe, "that's a policing matter," he said.
Organizations can only help develop plans to minimize problems, Pfeiffer said. At The Crib, for example, neighbors, police, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and the Night Ministry have met many times this year to address neighbor complaints.
The shelter at the Lake View Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison St., ended smoke breaks and recruited more volunteers in response, though other requests from neighbors, like hiring professional security, did not happen.
"We’re creating a new resource for people in your community who, without that resource, would be in trouble," Pfeiffer said.